“True autonomy arises when we have broken free of all the old structures, all psychological dependencies, and all fear”. — Adyashanti
It is a misconception to think autonomy frees you from responsibility. Autonomy is independence. Independence creates the responsibility to think and act in ways that bring harmony and not harm. Self-governing requires one to be vigilant and take responsibility for their actions.
Vigilance starts with self-observation. Learning to observe our thoughts without judgment is a vital skill. With proper use, we can hone our thinking and behavior. You don’t need religious dogma or doctrine to do this. Religion gets in the way of inner observation and clouds it with jargon. Memorizing religious mythology only makes the process of self-reflection more difficult.
Living Free As Possible
“The deepest problems of modern life derive from the claim of the individual to preserve the autonomy and individuality of his existence in the face of overwhelming social forces, of historical heritage, of external culture, and of the technique of life.” — Georg Simmel
The first step on the road to autonomy is identifying the harmful structures. Some people think guidelines for moral behavior are helpful. Ethical behavior is one focus of religion. But you don’t need religion to act responsibly. What you need is need empathy.
What is True Autonomy?
“Autonomy… is freedom to develop one’s self – to increase one’s knowledge, improve one’s skills, and achieve responsibility for one’s conduct. And it is the freedom to lead one’s own life, to choose among alternative courses of action so long as no injury to others results.” — Thomas Szasz
Popular Culture Structures Of Fear
The dominant culture structures fear into the narrative. That way, it can profit from our insecurity and fears. The biggest fear we have is our existential fear of death. For this, the dominant cultural narrative offers the counterfeit of an afterlife. This way, we don’t search for genuine answers. We accept the counterfeit answers of organized religion. We pay to belong and hope the fear goes away. But this doesn’t work. You can’t substitute one fear for another.
Only when we face our fear of death do we find the wisdom to live fearlessly. We don’t need the counterfeit of the afterlife by organized religion. Our existential dread is what should prompt us on our spiritual quest. Organized religion does not like this. They want to keep you a paying customer.
“True autonomy is not trying to fit in or be understood, nor is it a revolt against anything. It is an uncaused phenomenon. Consciously or unconsciously all beings aspire to it, but very few find the courage to step into that infinity of aloneness”. — Adyashanti
Breaking Free of Old Structures
What are the psychological structures that we need to break? Most people do not know what they are or where to begin. The culture conditions us to become accustomed to the barriers. If we don’t see the obstacles, we won’t try to break free. So, here’s a list of the most probable harmful social structures.
- Organized Religion
- Social Standards and Values
- Family and Cultural Hierarchies
Why do we need to break free from these structures? Because they often promote unhealthy thinking. Unhealthy thinking creates a chain reaction. Is it possible to determine if harmful influences affect your thinking? We’ll get to this in a moment. First, let’s look at the root causes of unhealthy thought patterns.
Organized religion is rooted in ancient mythologies that contain bias and prejudice. Chief among these is the “chosen one” mentality that makes people kill other people who don’t believe in their imaginary friend. These are unhealthy thought patterns. And they create social dependencies on several levels.
Basing your worldview on mythology makes you susceptible to groupthink manipulation tactics. Self-hypnosis and group hypnosis are the primary tools of organized religion. They use it to program thinking that affects our social standards and values. It is how bias and prejudice become laws, distorting family and cultural values. It becomes a mission to convert others to your brand of mythology. Otherwise, they are your enemy.
The mythology of organized religion becomes social standards and values, which justify discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and gender. It allows the culture to promote harmful and destructive practices like slavery even genocide. They find a scapegoat on which to focus our fear and hate. Religion’s false social standards mold our family and cultural hierarchies.
When religion infiltrates government, it shows up as nationalism and patriotism. It uses these philosophies to create tension and friction in society. Why would they want to do that? Because stress creates the opportunity to provide a solution. The historical folklore revolves around using scapegoats to blame for this friction. People destroy their autonomy when their programming comes from hate. Negative emotions create a heightened state of anxiety, making them susceptible to group hypnosis.
“Nationalism can be a destructive force when it promotes intolerance and division. But it can also be a force for good when it seeks to defend local autonomy against the homogenizing forces of larger entities.” — Maxime Bernier
“The state controlling a woman would mean denying her full autonomy and full equality.” — Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Roadblocks to True Autonomy
It is reasonably easy to tell which structures are harmful and restrict your autonomy. Ask yourself the following six questions.
1) Do your beliefs about the issue cause you fear or anger?
2) Do you feel you need to defend your beliefs about it?
3) Does the system or structure contain elements harmful to you, others, or the environment?
4) Does the belief structure contain justification for harming or discriminating against others?
5) If the structure has a hierarchy, does it promote preferential treatment? Does it discriminate against people because of classes, ethnicities, or genders? In short, does it value some people more than others?
6) Does it place boundaries on what you can think, what you value, what you can do? If so, are these boundaries applicable to everyone, or are some exempt?
If you answer yes to any of the questions above, it means you have structures preventing your “true autonomy.” You have two choices. You can ignore it and go back to sleep. Or, you can fight for as much of your independence as your situation allows.
Many cultures do not like freethinkers. Some cultures are oppressive and restrictive. Some cultures still punish those who proclaim or demonstrate freethinking. So, in some cultures, you need to keep your autonomy of thought private. Or at least be selective with whom you share ideas that do not align with the dominant cultural narrative.
People think North America is a bastion of freedom and tolerance for all people, regardless of their backgrounds. But this is not the case. Documents like the constitution do not necessarily reflect reality. The extremism of racial bias and discrimination is still a generational practice. When a culture is under the control of religious, ethnic, and racial bigotry, it is the enemy of freedom.
True Autonomy is Living Free As Possible
Here are some practical things you can do if you chose to increase your breadth of autonomy.
1) Eliminate or minimize your contact with news media filled with propaganda. If you are a news addict, switch to independent sources.
2) Eliminate your exposure to voluntary social and cultural programming. Eliminating or minimizing your exposure is hard to do since it comes under religion’s guise. The belief systems with the most harmful programming are the Abrahamic Traditions (1). These are the Semitic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The longer you are subject to the social conditioning from religion, the harder it is to reason objectively. The most effective option is to eliminate it.
If you find it difficult to remove the negative programming doing independent research, shift gears, and study logical reasoning. Logic can give you the structure to put mythology in its place.
3) Find other truth-seekers. Researching with others who want to seek the truth is a great strategy. If the culture you are in is oppressive. You create and walk your path. But that doesn’t mean you have to walk it alone.
Be careful not to share your new awareness and knowledge with those who use it to persecute or ostracize.
4) Fill your life with hope and allow yourself to become vulnerable. Open your eyes to social injustice. Learn to live a courageous life.
You would probably be surprised to learn how many people are working their way around these roadblocks. You aren’t alone in this quest. These issues are something many freethinkers and truth-seekers deal with as they become aware. Living free as possible is the road to true autonomy.
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(1) Abrahamic Religions, Wikipedia
(2) Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia